Top 25 things vanishing from America: #4 -- Honey Bees

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This series explores aspects of America that may soon be just a memory -- some to be missed, some gladly left behind. From the least impactful to the most, here are 25 bits of vanishing America.

Perhaps nothing on our list of disappearing America is so dire; plummeting so enormously; and so necessary to the survival of our food supply as the honey bee. 'Colony Collapse Disorder,' or CCD, has swept beekeepers throughout the U.S. and Europe over the past few years, wiping out 50% to 90% of the colonies of many beekeepers -- and along with it, their livelihood.

Commercial honey bees have a hard life in today's agriculture. They start with almonds in the early spring and spread throughout nut and fruit crops, ending with pears and apples in Oregon in the early fall. They travel from crop to crop with their overworked keepers, a group of modern cowboys essential to the very survival of the human race. Without bees to pollinate the crops, we and much of the ecosystem would be required to survive on a fraction of the produce we now enjoy.

While the exact quantity of bees lost in the past year is not known for sure, an extensive survey conducted by the Apiary Inspectors of America in February 2008 estimated that a third of colonies were lost, on average, compared to the year previous. Thirty-three percent losses in the past 16 months? Those are huge and devastating numbers, indeed. Due to the publicity of the losses, more extensive studies are underway; in Europe and in North Dakota, mis-application of pesticides has been blamed for a subset of honeybee deaths, and The Great Sunflower Project is gathering bee observation data from thousands of Americans.

Corporate America is hopping on board, too, with Haagen-Dazs' "Help the Honey Bees" project and Burt's Bees community initiative.

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